Bugs Are Back?

NBA? Oh no ya don’t. Y’all can’t do this to me! My heart break is only now starting to heal.
I’m old enough to remember when the Queen City was first granted its own pro basketball team. Actually because I’m no historian, I’m not sure if it was the first pro team Charlotte had ever had. I know there was a team called the Carolina Cougars, but I think they played in Greensboro.
Anyway, the excitement was palpable. Charlotte, on the national map!
We had, have, and always will love our fine tradition of college basketball in the great state of North Carolina.
But somehow this was different. It confirmed our up-and-coming status as a real urban center and made us feel more competitive with our archrival Atlanta.
In those blissful early days, we didn’t really care if our team went 27-55. The building, the 23,000-seat Charlotte Coliseum, was filled to capacity and jumping every night. That building’s natural nickname was the hive, and it sure sounded like swarms had taken over.
Remember short Mugsy, full of heart? The flamboyant Larry Johnson (LJ!) and Alonzo Morning?
I happened to be in the building where Morning is said to have made his Charlotte debut, the Milton Road Boys and Girls Club. The soda man had just stocked that machine inside of the chock full gym, and within 5 minutes we all had still warm drinks in our hands as we listened to ‘Zo speak.
As my cousin and I fully embraced sports, we’d initially listen to entire Hornets radio broadcasts starting perhaps an hour before the game and going till an hour or so after it.
If they happened to lose, we’d mope around for the rest of the evening. People would say “Snap out of it!” to which we’d reply “you just don’t understand”. And how could they?
The early 90s passed on by, and as we entered the middle of that decade some of the shine began to fade. Not that we in the city of Charlotte weren’t still big fans, but by this time we’d began to want a winner. It’s funny how quickly a playoff trip can spoil a fan base, isn’t it?
I moved on to a small town called Southern Pines North Carolina, and in an era before smartphones and ubiquitous Internet, I was forced to take in my beloved Hornets on an intermittent AM signal while attempting to avoid smashing myself repeatedly in the head with the Walkman I waved around. I still faithfully listened to every game, though.
Then came college and its myriad responsibilities. We joined the on-campus choir, and I was always a little sad when rehearsal occurred during a Hornets game. Never fear, that’s what the trusty recorder was for. If I could somehow avoid the score long enough, I’d just run back to my dorm room, hit rewind, and chill while the game replayed. The nice part about that was I could easily just skip the commercials.
And finally there was 2001. The once near-knighted George Shin and his chum Ray Woolridge, (probably not how his name is spelled but I don’t care) announced their intentions to relocate our team (OUR TEAM!) from the Queen City due to sagging interest. I’m sure it had more to do with them wanting to pad their bottom line, but then where is that not true in this world I suppose?
Players on that team stated that they fervently hoped they would not in fact leave Charlotte, and they played hard in order to try and make that happen. We advanced farther into the playoffs than any time before, sweeping the Miami Heat out of the first round and taking the Milwaukee Bucks all the way to the edge before going down in 7.
Oh man, that game six still makes me sad. We had a 10-point lead with like 5 minutes to go, and all we could do was watch helplessly as it slipped through our fingers. I remember ESPN Sport Center showing a kid in the lower rows crying his eyes out.
And that, in many ways, was the end of the Hornets’ tenure in our fine city. I think Charlotte was as eager to shirk the team as the team was to leave, as the city staged a vote to build a new arena that they knew would not pass. Then as soon as the team departed, they announced that they were building the arena anyway, and thus the league quickly granted us another team.
I went to that Bobcats season opener in 2004, with two of my cousins on a paratransit bus. It was kind of fun, as they opted to sit us down on the floor rather than in the way high up seats we had actually purchased. We ordered a pizza, placed the box down beside ourselves, took big cups of soda, and had fun making little old ladies nervous about our safety as we pranced around near the railings.
Unfortunately, the Cats have definitely not been able to capture that magic. I don’t really blame them though. Naturally, they’re dealing with an apathetic fan base and a lack of any really good players. Ok I kind of blame the ownership for that second issue, but, well.
Today, we at least put in a request to rename our team the Hornets, as New Orleans has abandoned it for the Pelicans (Pelicans?) It seems that if we are allowed the name change, it would not take effect until the 14-15 season.
Can a name really make a difference? I suppose not in and of itself it won’t. We’ll have to make a real go at building a team. But an example to which I have referred a lot is the Tampa Bay baseball team. They changed their name from the Devil Rays to just the Rays, and seemingly vaulted from being the butt of all jokes into the World Series overnight. So hey, who knows?

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